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Old March 12th, 2008 (2:35 PM).
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Chapter 15- The Path to The Great Dragon

“Eralynn, you need to decide whether or not we're going right now!” Rhylan shouted at the top of his lungs. He was practically on the brink of insanity due to Eralynn's apparent inability to make a decision.

“Listen to me, Rhylan,” the impetuous girl responded. “I know for sure that we should go, okay?”

Rhylan scoffed at this, unable to take her seriously at this point. “So, let me get this straight: First, you're really die-hard about coming out here and rescuing us and then continuing on. Then, you decide it's much too dangerous, considering there's a dragon and a perilous volcano out there. And now, you want to keep going again?!”

“Please! I know it's hard to understand, but you just need to listen to me,” Eralynn tried reasoning with the Prince. “There's no doubt in my mind anymore...” she then said, letting her words trail off.

After, there was a moment of silence during which Eralynn took the opportunity to take in the scene around her. The steam still slithered between the branches of the great tree, upon which Noctowl no longer sat. He had flown down to perch on the huge roots of the tree when Eralynn had collapsed, trying to see if she was all right. He sat very close to Aerance, who was even more concerned, and was also sitting close to where Eralynn had just fallen. Rhylan had lifted her in his arms and tried to awaken her. He had shaken her, yelled at her, and even slapped her cheeks lightly, but it was not up to him to make her wake up. She had eventually, much to their surprise, and it was very fulminant, as if the oxygen had suddenly been pumped back into her dying lungs.

No one really understood what had happened to Eralynn when she fainted. They never had to experience this before, since she previously had seen these visions while alone or sleeping. She had never collapsed in front of the others that way, and although she had been scared into doing things in this manner all the way here, none of the visions she was shown was anything like this.

Still, it made sense when she thought of what the dying Mightyena had told her previously. Team Devastation was most certainly planning a deadly attack on Derelon City. They were going to try to take it for themselves, so that must've been exactly what the voice was showing her.

Eralynn knew that it was imperative that she witness this horrifying future now, though. Whoever it was was showing her this at that moment because Eralynn was about to leave. She was completely ready to give up on whatever instinct she was going on. After all, she had no real proof that she should go on, except for a voice telling her to do so. In her eyes, it wasn't even an order before now, but really just a suggestion or request. She hadn't ever needed proof to realize how important it was, though. All she needed was to see the citizens of Derelon dying and their great city falling to Team Devastation, and the haunting voice knew that.

It wanted badly for her to continue, Eralynn knew that much. This was evident enough by the fact that it had just threatened the lives of her people and of her friends. In fact, it had given her an ultimatum: If she turned back now, they would all die, and she would probably suffer the consequences too.

Just then, she thought of something she hadn't immediately wondered about before. She hadn't actually seen what had happened to herself in that vision. She was paying close attention to Rhylan's terrible misfortune, and forgot to try and spot where and how she would end up.

Still, she knew that this was because relatively, everything else that she had witnessed in the dream was much worse. How could she have been concerned with anything else after seeing all of that?

Eralynn put her hand up to her chin and scratched it. She gently bit her lip and looked towards Aerance, Noctowl, and Rhylan.

“I need you to take me to the Great Dragon,” Eralynn stated firmly.

The wise owl blinked twice, and then nodded at the girl, indicating that he understood. “I will take you to him, my dear.”

* * * *

Eralynn did not realize it, but the great old tree in which Noctowl nested was actually on top of a large hill. Its roots began to thin out as the three travelers moved away from it and headed towards the opposite side from which they had come. At the same time, the land sloped downward, making it very difficult to walk away. After a certain point, the hill became much steeper, and Eralynn and Rhylan had to use the roots on the ground to climb down, as if they were rough, gnarly, uneven stairs. They stepped down and down, nearly losing their balance countless times as they went.

Aerance, on the other hand, had it even harder. Used to standing on all fours, it was difficult for her to put her forelegs forward and step down onto the knotty roots while leaving her haunches up higher behind her. She struggled all the way down, unable to grab the higher roots behind her like Eralynn and Rhylan could. Instead, she had to find a place to put all fours each time she stepped.

Eralynn occasionally looked up behind her to see how Aerance was doing. A part of her felt bad for her friend, but another part wanted to chuckle a bit. After all, Aerance was typically a strong, graceful animal. She always moved the fastest and the smoothest, and she was usually the one making daring leaps and sprints and the like. (This was true even when she was a Ponyta.) Now, here she was, finding it hardest out of anyone to get around.

Of course, the steam certainly didn't help matters much. It still surrounded them all as they descended, but it wasn't that hard to see where to step as they went down. Interestingly, the steam became much thinner after they had passed the tree. All of them could see much more clearly, and what wasn't completely sharp to their eyes was only foggy instead of impossible to see. Still, steam or no steam, the route was extremely difficult.

Noctowl floated down easily, of course, making the other three travelers jealous of his wings. He could fly much too fast for them, so sometimes, he would stop and sit on the tree roots for a bit while telling them to just keep going down. He had agreed to be their guide, but tended to get impatient with them anyway.

Eralynn clutched onto a root behind her as she felt her way down with her feet. Her sandals touched what felt like a relatively flat piece of a root and she allowed her weight to drop onto it. She had trouble being careful on the path, however, since she found it very difficult to actually concentrate. She couldn't get her mind off of everything that had happened to her. She thought endlessly of the Milotic and how one of them had said Eralynn resembled the woman that was once a queen. She also thought of the Xatu and their predictions. She recalled Aerance's powerful fire move and her dramatic change during evolution. She remembered the horror experienced at frightening Ridge of Obscurity and her imprisonment at the Team Devastation base. Still, out of everything, she thought mostly of the Great Dragon. Too many questions sprang to her mind, and she thought it best to ask while she had the chance.

“Noctowl, why did you tell me the Great Dragon would be so dangerous?” she asked him suddenly.

Floating in the air nearby, he turned to face her. He flapped his wings lightly and less forcefully than before, letting himself hover lower and lower to the roots until he was able to rest on one.

“Oh, humans. You always have to know everything, don't you?” Noctowl sighed and went on. “Any creature that you meet in the wild might be dangerous, and although no Pokemon are born with darkness in their hearts, we are all born with animal instincts, just as humans are.”

Eralynn looked from side to side as she was about to grab another root to hold onto. “Well, what instincts are you talking about exactly?”

“Many are born with the desire to hunt,” Noctowl said after pausing for a moment.

Eralynn gulped. The desire to hunt? Perhaps she had been right in assuming that the Great Dragon was a blood-thirsty monster that would simply eat them when they walked into his lair. She huffed at the thought, watching the scene play over and over again in her mind.

“Okay, fine. What the heck is he saying to you, Eralynn?” Rhylan asked abruptly.

Eralynn looked at him and frowned. Had he been that stubborn that he couldn't even have asked before? He was probably embarrassed about assuming that Eralynn was crazy and was talking to herself. Finally realizing that the owl Pokemon might actually be saying something was likely too much to handle. Eralynn rolled her eyes at the thought of the Prince's pride being hurt.

“Well, he's saying,” she started to say rudely, but then broke into a less condescending tone, “that the Great Dragon might be quite vicious.” She nearly choked at the sound of her own words.

Rhylan didn't respond. Instead, he just continued to step down the steep tree branches while holding on to those behind him.

“You see, I have never seen him, but I have certainly heard stories,” Noctowl chimed in. “Basically, none of them ended well, though.”

Eralynn lightly held her bottom lip in her teeth as she both struggled down the hill and listened to Noctowl's words. If she had heard this bad news before being warned by the mysterious voice about the fall of her city, she would have turned back with barely any doubt at all. However, since being shown that that was a real possibility, she decided to muffle her fear the best she could. Sure, she was usually reckless, but she was in for certain doom, as Noctowl told her, so she couldn't help but feel some mental anguish about meeting the creature.

She knew she couldn't run anymore, though. It was just too dangerous for everyone. She had to keep going, even if she knew she would be in trouble.

“So, what does he look like?” Eralynn inquired of her guide.

“Hmm, I don't know,” Noctowl answered simply.

Eralynn shot him a strange look. This Pokemon seemed to know everything else, but he had no idea of what a legendary dragon looked like?

Taking note of her reaction, Noctowl continued. “You see, no one was ever really that concerned with what the dragon looked like, Eralynn. The few things that I actually learned from gossip among the flying Pokemon were related to how the dragon acted.”

Eralynn nodded in response. Sure, this made sense. If anyone was seeking out the Great Dragon, wouldn't they rather know if they were going to get eaten or not? Still, his appearance would have been a good thing to know, so that Eralynn could be aware of just how intimidating the creature would be.

They all continued making their way down the hill, and Eralynn explained to Rhylan what Noctowl had said. She also had to tell him the things that the owl Pokemon had told them the first time that they met before entering the Ridge of Obscurity. Eralynn wasn't exactly surprised to see that Rhylan was outraged by the fact that Noctowl had actually warned them about the pools of water in the ridge. He wasn't being stupid and refusing to take Noctowl's advice, since he hadn't even heard it in the first place.

Eventually, the land began to grow flatter and flatter. The roots remained, but started diminishing in both size and amount. This wasn't a problem once they all reached the lower part of the gigantic hill, seeing as they would no longer need the roots to climb down a steep slope. Still, they had to watch their step to make sure that they didn't trip over the smaller roots that remained.

They were still walking downhill somewhat, but the land could now be walked on instead of climbed. Aerance seemed to be the one most relieved by this, as she could finally trot much more freely. Her movements became fluid once again, and the two humans were now the ones walking awkwardly down the increasingly more gradual slope. They walked in between the remnants of the big tree, upon the dirt that was sunken in between.

Soon after they had walked this path for a little while, Noctowl came to a stop mid-air. He turned around and looked at Eralynn, Rhylan, and Aerance and sat on the ground.

“This is where I must leave you again,” Noctowl began. “If you keep walking this way, you will come to a stream. This is the stream that crosses through the lava path of the volcano. When you come to this water, do not cross it. Remain on this side. The stream runs nearly parallel to the way in which we are moving now, but it is still at an angle that will allow your path to intersect with its own. When you reach it, just walk alongside it so that you're traveling parallel to it. The water will be flowing south-east, so walk the way that the water flows.”

Eralynn looked at Rhylan nervously, and then nodded dubiously at Noctowl. It seemed simple enough, but she really would have rather he was staying with them the whole way.

“You can handle it without me very easily,” Noctowl explained. “Keep walking the way I told you, and you will come to the area upon which the lava has cooled. There will be lots of dark, black rock, similar to that that makes up parts of the Ridge of Obscurity. This will indicate that you are near to the volcano itself. Keep going, and you will find it. It's very hard to miss.”

“Okay...” Eralynn said quietly.

“I personally would not like to risk running into the Great Dragon. I'm sure you have a reason for seeking him out, but I could not handle him very well. I bid you farewell, and good luck in your travels,” Noctowl said, and then with a strong flap of his wings, he was off.

Eralynn, Aerance, and Rhylan turned to look behind them as Noctowl flew off into the distance. They would've watched him longer, but before they knew it, he had disappeared into the steam. The partially vaporized water swallowed his small body as he floated back in the direction of the gigantic tree that was his home.

Rhylan sighed and Eralynn simply closed her eyes tightly. Aerance lifted a front leg and lightly tapped her hoof against the dirt-ground. All three of them seemed to pretend for a moment that they didn't know what they should be doing. This was not the case, however, and they most likely just didn't want to know what they had to do.

After a little while of this, Eralynn was the first to decide that they had to move on. They couldn't just stand there doubtfully forever waiting for something better to happen. They had to find this horrible place with this terrifying creature. Perhaps it could help them find out what this voice was. Even better, maybe it could tell Eralynn how to prevent the fall of Derelon City.

“Okay, Aerance,” Eralynn said quietly, “we have to get going.” With this, she tugged the reigns softly, indicating for the Rapidash to turn and begin moving.

Aerance lifted her forelegs and began to trot along the dirt ground, allowing her hooves to land between the tiny roots that were now few and far between. Eralynn and Rhylan hung on tightly to the reigns as she moved, nervous about the rest of this trip.

As they walked, they noticed again that the steam was gradually beginning to disappear. It was still there, but was lessening drastically by getting closer to the stream that Noctowl was talking about.

“Hey, why do you think it's getting clearer if we're getting closer to the source of the fog, or... steam?” Rhylan asked Eralynn eventually.

“I don't really have a clue, Rhylan,” the girl responded, perplexed. She didn't really understand it that well either. Perhaps that was just another thing that she could ask the Great Dragon about when they got there. That is, if he didn't kill them first.

At one point, Aerance let out an abrupt snort and stopped moving. She bent her neck lower to the ground as if looking for something.

“What is it?” Eralynn asked the Rapidash in a whisper.

Aerance answered her with a snort that barely allowed her to finish her question. She once again bent her head low and pricked her eyes so that they stood erect.

Eralynn watched her friend, at first not understanding exactly what was going on. After noticing Aerance's ears raise so high, though, Eralynn decided to follow suit. She held her breath and clutched her chest as she listened carefully. At first, there was nothing, but then, she heard just what Aerance was trying to tell her about: It was the sound of rushing water. The stream must have been getting closer. They were actually going the right way without Noctowl's help.

“We're nearly there,” Eralynn said aloud with wonder in her voice.

Rhylan leaned to the side to look around her, also trying to listen for the sound. When he realized it, he sighed again. It wasn't like him to be so speechless, but Eralynn didn't question him. She just assumed that he was worried about what this dragon was going to be like.

“Let's go,” Eralynn said somberly.

Aerance listened and continued moving again. She kept trotting until the trio did indeed reach the stream. It was actually much larger than Eralynn had pictured. It was not like the stream in the woods back in the Derelon City area, but much closer to a huge river instead. Jumping across to the other side wasn't exactly a feat that Aerance could handle, even in her evolved form.

Luckily, this was not something that the flame unicorn would have to accomplish, since Noctowl had told them to just continue alongside the river, moving parallel to it. Eralynn made sure that they were moving with the current rather than in the opposite direction before they went, but soon after they arrived there, they were on their way.

Aerance trotted on throughout the rest of the day, and soon, the three travelers could see in front of themselves much better than they could before. The steam was practically gone at this point, and all that remained was a light fog. Even the stars were visible now, and Eralynn stared at them for a while as they traveled, thankful to be able to catch a glimpse of the many constellations above.

For a moment, the sight of them made her think of the starlight guardians. The graceful, beautiful Milotic protected the lights in the sky, and she wondered if this was true even when she couldn't see the stars because of the steam. Why was it so important to protect them anyway? Sure, they were beautiful, but did they hold some sort of power? She let out a quiet sigh as she imagined them controlling fate and all that happened to the people on Earth. Perhaps that was it...

“Hey, Rhylan,” Eralynn started. “Have you ever seen a Milotic?”

“Huh?” Rhylan asked after a long period of hesitation. “No, I haven't, Eralynn,” he said .

“Well, I was just wondering if they had anything to do with that prophe-” but she couldn't continue her sentence without being interrupted.

“Eralynn, I don't believe in any prophesies, okay? It's all garbage, you know. I'm sure you were told stories just to scare you,” he rambled.

“Why would your father want to do that, you idiot?” she asked him angrily. She had thought just the opposite, actually. She'd assumed that King Nevarro was doing her a favor by letting her in on such a secret.

“Please, Eralynn, stop whining about magic and sorcery and things that just don't exist,” Rhylan snapped back.

Eralynn was taken aback by the comment, wondering why he was so defensive. He had only reacted this badly once before, when she had tried to look at the stone of Norsillon he had received. She knew that Rhylan must have been hiding something, but she quickly swayed herself into remembering what the Xatu had told her before: to trust her friends. It was hard, but with some convincing, she managed to tell herself that neither Aerance nor Rhylan could have possibly meant her any harm.

“I'm just being paranoid,” Eralynn thought to herself silently.

Without another word, the trio rode on into the twilight, moving right alongside the wide river whose current would soon take them to the Great Dragon's lair. Only Aerance's fiery mane and tail lit the way, and they all remained deep in thought as they went, Eralynn keeping her eyes peeled forward, unable to look away from their destination. Rhylan and Aerance were silent, unwilling to bring up the topic of what loomed before them.

After a few hours of traveling quite slowly along the river, Rhylan suddenly spoke.

“Eralynn,” he whispered, tugging at her shoulder, “look up there.”

Eralynn followed the direction of his finger and stared up at the sky. Straight into the distance he pointed, trying to guide her eyes towards something quite strange. Right above her, the stars remained very bright in their fixed positions, but as Eralynn looked further out into the distance, she could see a dramatic change in the appearance of the heavens above. First began the formation of dark clouds. Then, she could see them getting thicker and thicker, until at last, they formed a circular, swirling mass in the sky. It was very far ahead, and Eralynn had to try very hard to be able to tell what it was. What helped her was actually some kind of light within these clouds. Just like the dark gray cotton that littered the sky, the whitish-yellow light became stronger and stronger towards the center of the slowly rotating cyclone. In the middle it was strongest, and then faded as it traveled out from the center of the huge pinwheel.

“What is it?” Eralynn asked Rhylan and Aerance while in a daze.

“I... I don't know,” Rhylan answered in the same stupefied voice.

Aerance let out a soft whinny, frightened by the terrifying thing in the sky. She lifted her forelegs and began to slowly back away.

Ignoring this, Eralynn said, “They look like... rain clouds, but I've never seen anything so big.”

“Yeah... rain clouds,” Rhylan said frightfully, as though both in some horrifying trance.

Eralynn quickly shook her head at the sound of his reaction. She lightly pulled on Aerance's reigns until the Rapidash started moving again. Eralynn had to tell her friend countless times to keep going, since Aerance was so scared. She even stopped a couple of times, practically refusing to continue on. Still, Eralynn had to urge the unicorn Pokemon on despite being so scared herself.

She couldn't take her eyes off of the cloud formation that they were headed straight for. The entire time they walked, she just stared at it, and she imagined that Rhylan was doing the same, being just as stunned as she was.

After what felt like only a few minutes of walking, the three of them got much closer to the swirling clouds, and also what was just beneath it...

Eralynn did not notice for a long time, since she was completely mesmerized by the strange sky, but they were coming upon a drastic change in the landscape ahead. She managed to finally break away from looking up into the distance, and saw that just underneath the swirling clouds was what initially looked like an oddly-shaped mountain. Its sides were charred with something black, and they sloped straight up into a small opening on top, with the exception of a few shelves of rock that jutted out every now and again.

“Rhylan, that's the... the...” Eralynn started, but could barely speak.

“I know what it is,” Rhylan stated from behind her, his voice nearly cracking.

Straight ahead loomed the very lair of the Great Dragon. It was the same place that all of them both wanted to find and wanted to avoid for the rest of their lives. Regardless of that, they were there now, waiting to see their fate.

Eralynn put her own arms around her so as to hold her own body. She felt a shiver run up and down her spine, and she started to breathe deeply. She couldn't allow herself to be scared any longer, though. She had to find out what was going on, and there was only one way to do it.

The girl gave Aerance a pat on the side, and, hanging onto the Rapidash's body, slid off of her. She held onto Aerance's body as she stopped to take in the sight before her. This was it.

“I have to go in alone,” Eralynn stated emphatically. “I can't have you two getting hurt for something that only involves me.”

Rhylan slapped both hands against the sides of his head and blinked hard. “Eralynn, what are you talking about?! We cannot let you go into that place alone!” He had to restrain himself from screaming.

“Rhylan, please. Think of Aerance! She'll need your help escaping and returning to Derelon if something goes wrong,” Eralynn retorted.

“No, she won't. And besides, why can't I just go?” Rhylan asked in a shout.

“Rhylan, you can't hear Noctowl when he talks. You couldn't hear the dying Mightyena either. How are you supposed to listen to the Great Dragon's words? Also, you aren't the one that's been having visions and hearing voices. I think I deserve an answer to my questions about this, don't you?” Eralynn argued.

Rhylan frowned and lowered his eyebrows, trying desperately to think of a reason that would convince the foolish girl not to go it alone. When he couldn't find one, he thought of an alternative to going inside with her. “Eralynn... we're coming with you at least to wait directly outside for you. Aerance and I will not take 'no' for an answer.”

Aerance gave a loud snort and slammed a hoof against the ground. Rhylan smiled and folded his arms over his chest, satisfied that the Rapidash so readily agreed with him.

“Fine,” Eralynn said after heaving a sigh. She put her hand in Rhylan's and gave a forced smile, trying to tell him everything would be all right. Then, letting go of him, she threw her arms around Aerance's neck and kissed her. “Everything will be just fine,” she found it hard to say the words and believe them.

Then, she released her grip on Aerance and began creeping towards the fiery mountain that housed the Great Dragon himself...
FanFic: Stir of The Thunderstorm (Please R&R.)
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